Astronomy Essentials

Jupiter at opposition September 26, 2022

A banded planet, with 2 little dots of light (its moons) nearby.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Around the time of its yearly opposition, Jupiter is brightest in our sky, best through a telescope, and visible all night. Michael Terhune in Lunenburg, Massachusetts, captured Jupiter near last year’s opposition, in August of 2021. He wrote: “My sharpest image of Jupiter! Showing 2 of its Galilean satellites Io and Europa. The Great Red Spot is also visible.” Thank you, Michael.

Earth will sweep between the sun and Jupiter on September 26, 2022, placing the giant planet opposite the sun in our sky.

When and where to watch in 2022: Jupiter emerges in the east before sunrise by early April 2022. By late July 2022, Jupiter is rising in the east at midnight. By the time of its September 26 opposition, Jupiter is rising in the east at sunset, and visible all night. For the rest of 2022, Jupiter is up in the evening. It continues shifting west, remaining visible in the evening sky through March of 2023.
Opposition for Jupiter will fall at 20 UTC on September 26, 2022.
Note: Opposition marks the middle of the best time of year to see an outer planet. Jupiter, the 2nd-brightest planet, reaches a yearly maximum in brightness at or near opposition. Around late September, 2022, you’ll find Jupiter easily as a blazing light, rising in the east as the sun sinks below the western horizon. Think of us on Earth, sweeping between the sun and Jupiter in our smaller, faster orbit. According to the Observer’s Handbook 2022, Jupiter is also closer to Earth at its 2022 opposition than it has been for the last 70 years.

Simple diagram of orbits of Earth and a superior planet.
Opposition happens when Earth flies between an outer planet, like Jupiter, and the sun. Illustration via Heavens-Above.

At opposition in September 2022

Jupiter is in front of the constellation Pisces the Fishes.
Jupiter shines at its brightest for 2022, at magnitude -2.9.
Jupiter is at its least distance from Earth for 2022, 33 light minutes from Earth.
Through a telescope, Jupiter appears 50 arcseconds across.
Through binoculars, Jupiter reveals a bright disk. If you look closely, you’ll see the Galilean satellites appearing as pinpoints of light, arrayed in a line that bisects the giant planet.

For precise sun and Jupiter rising times at your location:

Old Farmer’s Almanac (U.S. and Canada)

Timeanddate.com (worldwide).

Stellarium (online planetarium program)

A larger Jupiter, and a smaller Jupiter, viewed through a telescope.
A comparison of the apparent size of Jupiter at opposition (next on September 26, 2022) and when it is most distant from the Earth at solar conjunction (next on April 11, 2023). Image via Dominic Ford’s In-the-Sky.org.

How often does Jupiter reach opposition?

Jupiter comes to opposition roughly every 13 months. That’s how long Earth takes to travel once around the sun relative to Jupiter. So – according to our earthly calendars – Jupiter’s opposition comes about a month later each year. Recall that there are 12 constellations of the zodiac. And there are 12 months in a year. So Jupiter is in a new zodiacal constellation each year (last year, Capricornus; this year, Pisces).

Jupiter opposition 2021 – August 19-20.
Jupiter opposition 2022 – September 26.
Jupiter opposition 2023 – November 2.
Jupiter opposition 2024 – December 7.
Jupiter opposition 2025 – January 10.

Jupiter events in 2022 and early 2023

July 28, 2022: Jupiter begins retrograde motion
Septemper 26, 2022: Jupiter at opposition
November 23, 2022: Jupiter ends retrograde motion
Jan 21, 2023: Jupiter at perihelion
February 22, 2023: Lunar occultation of Jupiter
April 11, 2023: Jupiter at solar conjunction
May 17, 2023: Lunar occultation of Jupiter

Jupiter with swirly banded atmosphere and oval storms, with text annotations.
View larger. | Jupiter and its stormy atmosphere as seen by the Hubble Space Telescope on September 4, 2021. Image via Amy Simon (NASA-GSFC)/ Michael H. Wong (UC Berkeley)/ Hubblesite.

Jupiter, the failed star

Jupiter isn’t a rocky planet like Earth. It’s more like a failed star, not massive enough or hot enough inside to spark thermonuclear fusion reactions, but some 2 1/2 times more massive than all the other planets in our solar system combined. For Jupiter to shine as stars do, you’d need some 80 Jupiters – rolled into a ball – to be hot enough inside to spark thermonuclear reactions.

So Jupiter isn’t a star. It doesn’t shine with its own light, but by reflected sunlight. Yet on a September 2022 night – as bright Jupiter rises more or less opposite the sun – you can imagine standing on Earth and seeing Jupiter in our sky, if the giant planet did have enough mass to shine as stars do. If that were so, around Jupiter’s opposition, we’d have no night at all!

Animation showing Earth moving around and around the sun faster than Jupiter.
Jupiter (red) completes one orbit of the sun (center) for every 11.86 orbits of the Earth (blue). Our orbit is smaller, and we move faster! Animation via Wikimedia Commons.

Bottom line: Look for Jupiter on the night of September 26, 2022, when this gas giant world comes to opposition, the point opposite the sun in our sky. Opposition happens when we fly between Jupiter and the sun in our smaller, faster orbit.

Read more: How to see Jupiter’s moons

Read more: Why is Jupiter closest after we go between it and the sun?

Posted 
January 15, 2022
 in 
Astronomy Essentials

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